50 in 50: Idaho: Cousin Peg to the Rescue

I'm late, I'm late For a very important date. No time to say hello, good-bye, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!

--"I'm Late," sung by White Rabbit in Disney's Alice in Wonderland (1951)

Last week I looked at the calendar and winced. How did I get this far behind? I need to zip along; need to learn how to speed date each state. Nice to meet you, Georgia. Off you go. Next? Instead I linger too long, lost in a particular state's unique charms (the quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama, still call to me). Before you know it I'm late, I'm late for a very important state date.

So here we are at "50 in 50's" first 100 days--should I issue a statement? alert the media? paint my house white and hold a front porch presser?--and I've failed my stated goal. Idaho? Due three weeks ago, followed by Illinois and Indiana. This should be Iowa's week, but thoughts of Kona coffee and chocolate covered macadamia nuts still fill my head.

Lesson learned? With apologies to Hawaii (and John Donne), no man, woman or blogger is an island. Strength in numbers, as Warriors basketball fans say. Time to reach out for help. Who do I know in Idaho? My cousin, Peggy Polito. She's lived in Orofino, ID (population 3,142) for over 30 years. Would she be willing to write something about her adopted home state? She would. And her husband (Jerry Branning) would send along some photos. See their heartfelt words and spectacular images below. Thank you, Peggy and Jerry. Enjoy, CAMJ readers!

Hell Canyon, Snake River. Looking south from Suicide Point. (Photo: Jerry Branning)

The Idaho I Love by Peggy Polito

Idaho is well-known for its beauty: its mountains, forests and rivers, its clean air and water. A Wilderness State, Idaho's central portion is comprised of federally-owned and protected lands. Orofino is located in Clearwater County at the base of the panhandle, where the state begins to widen up. The Selway Bitterroot Wilderness and the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness are nearly at my back door.

Selway Bitterroot Wilderness, on ridge half-mile east of Mt. Paloma. (Photo: Jerry Branning)

I can walk or cross country ski into peace and serenity. You might find me trekking along the nearby Orofino Creek, Clearwater River or the Dworshak State Park Reservoir's trails. Hiking is a joy.

Clearwater National Forest, North Fork Clearwater River, upper end Dworshak Reservoir. 50 mi NE Orofino, ID (Photo: Jerry Branning)

With the advent of spring, birds are returning and nesting. We see Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons and osprey flying, fishing and hanging out in riparian areas. There are ducks and geese, kingfishers, tanagers, robins, magpies and bluebirds, to name a few of the local birds. During summer exploring the wilderness is a favorite pastime. Enjoying the incredible displays of spring and summer flowers is pure joy.

For better or worse, deer sleep on our lawns in town. They've been hungry this past winter; stripped plants of every possible nibble, every leaf, stem and bud. Fences are a necessity if one desires to raise a garden or a flower.

The extensive nature of the wilderness provides welcome solitude, but visitors should be forewarned that the terrain is rugged, difficult for both driving and hiking (budgets do not support trail maintenance; much of the work done on trails is done by volunteer crews). Viewing wildlife is a treasure. Sighting the wilderness inhabitants is infrequent, but a thrill whenever it occurs.

Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, just above Meadow Cr. Lake, 30 mi. E. McCall, ID (Photo: Jerry Branning)

Last summer the great treat was climbing up and over a ridge to find ourselves in the middle of a herd of mountain goats. It is much more common to see wildlife from a distance.

Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Big Baldy Ridge. Mountain goat, about two years old. (Photo: Jerry Branning)

Idaho is a long narrow north/south state, comprised of many and various ecosystems. A person could explore Idaho for a lifetime and never finish seeing new things and places. I have only described a bit of the north central part of the state.

Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, Big Baldy Ridge. 40 mi SE McCall, ID (Photo: Jerry Branning)

Historically the the timber industry has thrived in the state. But over time, things have changed. Nowadays we are more likely to produce paper products (toilet paper, paper towels) than lumber. When I arrived in Orofino back in 1979, hired by the U.S. Forest Service to work with young people aged 16-22 years in a work-training program called the Young Adult Conservation Corps (now called YCC), I became part of a community economically dependent on the timber industry. I met foresters, silviculturists, engineers, biologists and archaeologists. I got to know the people who were growing the trees, building the roads, planning the sales. Gradually I came to a greater understanding regarding timber harvest and production. It's a complicated industry.

As mills in Orofino continue to close, people seek out other means of making a living. They go back to school, learn new skills, change careers. They make do. As schools lose money due to funding cuts tied to diminished forestry revenues, teachers use the resources they still have available to them (just as I once did as a special education teacher). Orofino is a resilient community.

In addition to paper products, Idaho's known for potatoes and gemstones. And oh yes, winemakers abound. Although the advanced manufacturing sector shows promising growth, Idaho is limited in terms of industrial development. Clearwater can be a tough place to make a living. Most kids who grow up here leave and find jobs elsewhere. Still, I loved raising my kids here.

I do love Idaho. Love the lifestyle, love the people. It's a beautiful piece of the world I call home!

Clearwater National Forest, Five Lakes Butte area, Heather Lake (L) and Seed Lake (R). 50 mi. NE Orofino, ID (Photo: Jerry Branning)

Peggy Polito, a retired special education preschool teacher, lives in Clearwater County, ID. Jerry Branning, now retired, worked for the Clearwater Forest Service (a third generation employee) for over 35 years. Currently a Forest Service volunteer, he helps restore historic buildings. In 2015 he received an Orchid Award from Preservation Idaho for his positive contribution to historic preservation in Idaho.